Timberwolves 110, Trail Blazers 117: Grading on a Curve

Steve McPherson —  February 9, 2014 — 15 Comments

I’m a teacher, which means I do a lot of grading and — honestly — I hate it. But I thought for a change of pace I’d try out the handy platform created by our TrueHoop buddies over at Raptors Republic to recap a game that, honestly, was way more fun and entertaining than it had any right to be, given injuries to Pekovic, Love and Martin.

(PRO TIP: The Chrome browser and the recap grades generator are sniping at each other in the locker room. Neither is taking accountability for the disagreement. For now, you’ll probably have better luck reading the grades post if we run the Firefox browser play.

In case this horrible basketball analogy isn’t clear, Chrome hates the grades generator for some reason we can’t figure out right now. Look at it in Firefox and it’s fine — Zach Harper)

Portland Trail Blazers 117 FinalRecap | Box Score 110 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dante Cunningham, PF 39 MIN | 6-16 FG | 2-6 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +4Starting in his second game of the season after Kevin Love was held out with a quad contusion, Cunningham brought the kind of energy we often associate with him, but haven’t always seen this season. Yes: he shot his fair share of midrange jumpers and only managed a .375 shooting percentage, but he racked up two big dunks early plus one big block on C.J. McCollum that were a big part of the energetic start that kept the Wolves in the game for the first three and a half quarters.

Corey Brewer, SF 39 MIN | 11-23 FG | 4-6 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 26 PTS | +6Brewer as a primary offensive option is a terrifying proposition, but such are the contorted positions that injuries to your top three scorers can put you in. With 26 points (the last ones coming when the game was already out of reach), he barely edged Ricky Rubio to lead the team in scoring and he did it with his signature blend wanton recklessness on the break and ill-advised long-range shots. Technically, he only shot one 3-pointer according to the box score, but he took a lot of long twos from near the corner. Nonetheless, his crazy energy was a big part of the Wolves nearly overcoming all their injuries in this one. As he said after the game, “We have to look at it like as long as we play as hard as we can we have a chance to win.” It’s not clear exactly how much of a chance they had, really: Although they hung tough through most of the game, it always seemed like Portland was going to be able to go back to their starters and finish it off.

Chase Budinger, SF 29 MIN | 6-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | +19Budinger’s return to full-strength continues to be a work in progress, but he really showed a lot of improvement in this game, racking up a very strong 19 points on 50% shooting in his first start of the year. After the game, he referred to this game as a “stepping stone,” and that seems right. It’s hard to know if there’s a distinct corner for a player to turn on their way back from injury, or if that kind of thing is only apparent in reverse. If the injuries force Budinger to step up a little sooner and a little quicker without putting him at risk, this run of games prior to the All-Star break with him starting could augur well for the team’s production after the break.

Ronny Turiaf, C 38 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +8Turiaf is just a joy to watch play, and he is more or less the definition of the largely undefinable “veteran leadership” for a team. His block on Wes Matthews as the first half wound down kept the game within one point for the Wolves going into the break, and that sense of nearly playing the Blazers even through 24 minutes meant a lot to their solid third quarter play. Much like Budinger, this extended run right now could pay dividends when the injured starters return.

Ricky Rubio, PG 39 MIN | 8-19 FG | 7-8 FT | 2 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | +5This was a great all-around effort from Rubio, who still took the loss pretty hard. Lacking Martin, Love and Pekovic meant that he was his own last resort, and he stepped into that role solidly, notching a new career and season high with 25 points. Sure, it came on 8-19 shooting, but there are plenty of players out there who would shoot that much and miss that much and never blink. It would be wrong to think this is the kind of point production we should be expecting from Rubio in general, but it’s clear that he’s been in a funk for much of the season and there’s some reason to hope that the shifting roles that injury is forcing on the team might do something to shake up his game.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -6Four minutes wasn’t much to judge Mbah a Moute on. He continues to be an able replacement for Derrick Williams, in that he doesn’t play much and doesn’t do much.

Robbie Hummel, SF 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -4After notching 17 minutes against OKC after not playing since early January, Hummel didn’t get into the game against New Orleans and then made little impact last night. It seems like Adelman’s early season model of workmanlike play has fallen out of the rotation, but it’s hard to complain that much when it means more room to see what the next guy down the list has to offer.

Shabazz Muhammad, SF 17 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-5 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -19Shabazz finally managed to get some solid run in a game, notching season highs in both minutes and points. He looked aggressive, particularly on the block where his strength helped him get good lucks from the left post an a flurry of hook shots in the early going.It wasn’t all gravy, though: He still got hot over an offensive foul call that was — in my opinion — a 50/50 call. You could have made an argument for the contact as incidental, but it also speaks to some of the recklessness he still plays with, and then his visible anger with the call doesn’t speak well to keeping your head down and playing the game no matter what knocks you take. He also had a few moments that looked out of place in an NBA game. At one point in the fourth quarter, Nicolas Batum was clearly giving him the 3-pointer. Muhammad thought about the shot, took a couple dribbles and then jacked it up, missing. It seemed clear that Batum was baiting him into taking it and he fell for it hook, line and sinker. His play early was good, his play late less so. If he can maintain the kind of aggressiveness and energy he showed early throughout all his playing time, he can be helpful.

Gorgui Dieng, C 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -16At one point, when Aldridge was taking it to Cunningham, it seemed like Adelman went to Dieng in hopes that his length would bother Aldridge a little more. It didn’t. Dieng’s game is still raw and his rim protection wasn’t a factor against a team that was relying on jumpshots from Matthews and Aldridge with Lillard in foul trouble.

J.J. Barea, PG 14 MIN | 1-7 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -18It seems plain that Barea is not a good fit for this roster the way the season is playing out. The vision of Barea as a sixth man off the bench to provide a spark within the context of a well-oiled offensive machine just isn’t happening. Any kind of championship experience he was supposed to bring from his run with the Mavericks has evaporated. It’s like the Wolves wanted to start a spin-off from a hit show, but instead of Frasier, they’ve gotten a Paul Krapence.Barea seems completely incapable of running an offense, instead only using the players around him as safety cones to navigate on his way to a generally bad jumper or a cannonballing foray to the rim. I would never question his competitive spirit, but right now, with this team, it’s like fire trapped with no place to go and putting him in the game is creating a backdraft.

Alexey Shved, PG 6 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -14The only thing equal to Shved’s terrifying appearance in mask and Iron Curtain-stength hair gel was his ineffectiveness on the court.

Kevin Love, PF DNP LEFT QUAD CONTUSION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | I think he was wearing the same checkered shirt I bought at Target a couple weeks ago. It’s a good shirt, but I’d be surprised if he actually got it there, although I can’t not be entertained by the idea of Kevin Love shopping at the Roseville Super Target.

Rick AdelmanI don’t honestly believe there was very much that Adelman could have directly done to win this game, but running Barea as the primary ballhandler for stretches certainly didn’t help. If you want to credit Adelman for instilling the right kind of mentality in the team going in, for getting them to understand that they were going to have to jump on the Blazers right away and play with energy the whole night, then that’s to his credit. But Adelman continues to lean heavily on Barea in stretches that seem to stymie the team’s momentum. Not that he has a lot of options for PGs on the bench since Shved as the primary ballhandler seems just as ill-advised. I miss Luke Ridnour.

One Thing We Saw

  1. Looking at this game on the schedule, it would have been reasonable to chalk it up as a loss just looking at the lack of Pekovic, looking at Portland’s record and success, and looking at playing the second game of a back-to-back. Add in missing Love and Martin and by all rights this should have been a blowout. (Consider that statistically the Wolves regular starting lineup has an average PER of 18.6. Last night’s starters? Average of 11.5.) But it wasn’t. The Wolves rallied together in spite of it all, which is about all you could hope for in this situation. In any project that’s spread over months and months, there are going to be days when the odds are stacked against you, when circumstances are going to make a direct success nearly impossible. I continue to believe these are the times when you can learn the most about the project. Maybe Shabazz never gets extended run the rest of the season. Maybe they won’t need him to get much run. But if and when there’s a time when he does further down the line, it’s only with experiences like the one from last night that he’ll have a chance for success.

Steve McPherson

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15 responses to Timberwolves 110, Trail Blazers 117: Grading on a Curve

  1. I also miss Luke. I said the day we lost him and kept Barea that it was the wrong decision. Barea is a fine player on the right roster, but we need someone with more consistency, someone to give you smart decisions night in and night out. We need Luke Ridnour.

  2. Awesome. I’ve been hoping you guys would mix in this format since I saw it at PistonPowered. Just promise you won’t adopt their 1990′s website…

    Every time JJ Barea jacks up a three mere seconds into the shot clock, I die a little on the inside.

    It is nice to see Rubio play so aggressive…it would just be nice if he could finish at the rim: http://stats.nba.com/shotchartIframe.html?SeasonType=Regular%20Season&Season=2013-14&TeamID=1610612750&PlayerID=201937&GameID=0021300752&ContextMeasure=FG_PCT&ContextFilter=TEAM_GAME_LOCATION%3D%27Home%27&display-mode=performance&zone-mode=zone&viewShots=false

  3. I miss Trey Burke.

  4. I remember debating with myself this summer if Barea or Ridnour would be the better back-up option. I chose Barea for the exhausted reason that he is a nice offensive spark off the bench. However it seems I chose wrong. As mentioned above Barea just does not seem capable of running an offense. I think Adelman and Saunders understand that and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s moved before the deadline. As Flip has mentioned most teams want draft picks (Toronto comes to mind) but we may be able to grab a player like Andre Miller.
    Sometimes when I watch Burke play I am reminded of Barea. I certainly don’ believe his development trajectory amounts to Barea but it I worrisome. I still would much rather have Burke; making Barea a tradable asset. Shabazz’s lack of minutes seems to lead him to want to prove himself every second on the court which would be good if he didn’t believe that meant shooting every time the ball touches his hands.
    The West is tough and if we can’t pull it together (and I hate what I’m about to say), it’d be “nice” to start tanking (I know that doesn’t bode well for keeping Love). I would like to see us draft Ennis.
    Bringing my rambling to an end I’ll say I enjoyed the energy last night; every loss is difficult to swallow and I truly hope we can turn this around.

  5. That’s just silly Tim. Trey Burke was never a wolves player. If we hadn’t traded the pick, we would likely not have picked Burke anyway.

  6. Don’t call me silly for wishing we’d drafted a player that would actually play and create and contribute instead of getting two people that can’t earn any playing time in the second unit on this team. I’m sick of us using 1st round draft picks on potential. When has that ever worked? If you don’t want me to miss Burke specifically, then I miss whatever players we missed to move down in the draft. You can say we wouldn’t have chosen him, but I still miss him anyway. Even when people drop a silly bomb on me for it.

  7. Luke was a great back up, and I think we’d be better off with him than Barrea. Barrea is just a littel ball of energy that pesters everyone and scores 15 one night and 2 the next.

    As for the first round potential, Love is the only player (and he was from a trade technicall) along with this new scoring Rubio I’ve seen lately, who have seemed to work out for the Wolves. The last player before them to actually impact the team in a positive way is Wally Szerbiack…

  8. Tim – His numbers are shockingly similar to Jonny Flynn’s in his rookie year. Something to think about…

    If you like wishing, make it about Michael Carter-Williams, who went two spots after Burke.

  9. The graphics are not displaying properly in Safari in Mac OS 10.9, either. FYI

    It was an entertaining game. I wonder if Rubio’s development as a player would have been better without Kevin Love around – he would have been forced, by necessity, to develop the offensive game that everyone agrees he needs.

    I liked Shabazz Muhammed’s sequence in the first half – I would have kept feeding him the ball until Portland made an adjustment to stop him. Instead he got taken out of the game (as part of the pre-planned rotation, I presume). At times it feels as if Adelman sticks to his offense plan even when free lancing or improvising is producing better results, and this instance was one of them.

  10. I’m not going to dig too deep into the Burke thing, but anyone who assumes he’s playing well is mistaken. His shooting is worse than Jonny Flynn’s was in his rookie year, and most of his numbers per 36 minutes are similar to Barea’s.

    Overall, the biggest concern with this game is that they haven’t built up enough of a cushion in other games to withstand a game like this one. They played hard and aggressively, and the game largely came down to who made more shots.

  11. As for Shabazz, it’s funny to assume that Adelman was too rigid with him. They basically scrapped the offensive system to give him the ball in the one spot he could make shots from (all of his points came from left block post-ups), and even when he was shooting well in the first half, the team was -8 when he was on the floor. Not only that, but his freelancing in the 4th quarter led to the ill-advised 3s (a shot he hasn’t proven he can make yet), and Brewer and Budinger were better than he was the whole game (it wouldn’t work to play all 3 of them together, unless you think Brewer could guard Robin Lopez or one of them could play PG).

    Muhammad’s success was based on: Adelman deciding to feature him offensively when he was in the game, the guards getting him the ball in a place where he could do something with it, and Portland not trapping him. His success is reminiscent of Shved’s success last season, except Shved can handle the ball and pass. He might have more success, but it won’t be the way he did on Saturday because teams will adjust the same way they did to Shved.

  12. I have been very encouraged with Ricky’s play recently, but it’s also been frustrating to watch him play all season with both Kevins. In the beginning, the two-man game the Kevins played worked good. Now, when all three are in the game, it turns into Ricky bringing the ball across half court and immediately making a pass around the perimeter. I love Kevin Martin, but the ball needs to be in Ricky’s hand more. Let him dribble around like Barea does, minus the out of control layups. Ricky should just dribble around until he can make a seemingly easy-yet-amazing pass for an assist.

  13. It’s time to start thinking about this team’s future without Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic. Here’s why:

    The more I watch the Wolves, the more I’m convinced that this team is going to have a hard time becoming a contender without a shot blocker at the 4 or 5. When Ronny’s in the game, not only is he blocking two or three shots a night, but he’s also contesting everything he can get to, which only leads to more misses. Given his lack of offensive production, I’d obviously rather have Pek in the game, but without a proven shot blocker on the floor, this team gives up way too many easy points in the paint and can’t generate enough defensive stops to really lock-down an even average offense, as we’ve seen versus the likes of Sacramento and Denver.

    So, is there a contending team that doesn’t have a shot blocker starting at the 4 or 5? In short, no, at least not close to the basement levels Love and Pek block shots. Moreover, as of today, Dante Cunningham leads the Wolves in blocks with 33, and is ranked 58th in the league. You know who is 57th? VICTOR OLADIPO. Love and Pek have a combined 42 blocks on the season, which is only 13 behind the 55 put up thus far by WESLEY JOHNSON. And while blocks do not tell the whole story of our defensive woes, Pek and Love make it far too easy for their opponents to take uncontested high percentage shots (aka layups and dunks).

    Now, Pek and Love are the second most prolific rebounding tandem in the league (behind DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin), which definitely helps to prevent second-chance points. Then again, as commentators have pointed out, because Love often makes no attempt to contest shots, he is able to keep his feet on the floor and get into prime rebounding position. Essentially, Love and Pek are playing the odds when they do this. They allow their opponent to shoot a higher percentage while reducing the chance of an offensive rebound. This might not be a terrible strategy, considering Love and Pek’s physical inability to elevate and challenge shots, but when your opponents are taking uncontested layups, how many rebounds are you going to get?

    All considered, this team can’t expect to contend with both Love and Pek in the starting line-up. Both are all-star worthy NBA players, but require someone else to make up for their lack of shot blocking. So, if one has to go, it will likely be Love, considering Pek’s new contract and Love’s lack of one. The Wolves could get a sizable return, but no one that’s going to be capable of filling Love’s shoes offensively anytime soon, even if they can block shots.

    I can’t see any significant trades involving the Wolves happening before the trade deadline, but, assuming we miss the playoffs, I also can’t see us keeping Love if a decent offer comes along, especially if it gives us a high draft pick (which is unlikely, given the talent of this draft class). It would be great if Kevin could stay, but having him walk away and getting nothing in return would set us back even further. And to be honest, is anyone convinced that this team – even with a retooled bench – is going to be a contender next year? Or more to the point, is this team going to be good enough to convince Love to stick around? Unless we can somehow trade Pek, find a capable Center that can block shots, and somehow sign Love to a max deal, I don’t see another option.

    I hate to say it, but the most likely situation is looking like trading with the Lakers for their first round pick (likely a top 8 selection) and maybe a couple role players like Jordan Hill or Jodie Meeks. With Kobe on his last legs, they can’t wait around for a rookie to develop, so making a move for Love would make sense, assuming he would sign for them long-term. That said, a more appealing option for the Lakers might be to pursue one of the marquee free agents and use the draft pick to plug one of their many holes (although I can’t see too many players getting excited about playing with Kobe, especially after the “Dwight-mare”, last season).

    Either way, this wasn’t how this season was supposed to go. Some people blame the coach, some people blame the bench, and I happen to blame it on our lack of shot blocking/contesting. No matter what you think, the reality is that this team is likely to reenter “rebuilding mode” sooner rather than later.

  14. Steve Barea lost this game? This game was lost even before it started with Love, Martin and Peck out, please be fair to the bench players.

  15. Sean, just want to say I appreciate your post, it is thoughtful and articulate. One thing I appreciate about AWAW is that people are generally respectful and thoughtful here and realize the important thing is not that we agree, but that we say what we think in an intelligent way.

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